MBA students bring international service organization to Willamette

A group of students at Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management recently established a chapter of the international business organization Net Impact — allowing them to serve the local community while observing and gaining valuable business management skills.

Net Impact is an international nonprofit that uses a business-oriented structure as a vehicle for social service and sustainability efforts. The organization was founded in 1993 by MBA students as a social impact group, and has grown to include undergraduates, MBA graduates and business professionals. The Willamette chapter joins more than 260 other chapters from many of the world's leading graduate schools.

The project had its roots in place last spring, and has now begun work in the Salem community. President Ian Townson, a first year MBA candidate, calls the organization a great resource for students who want to immediately get involved in the action.

"Net Impact provides a platform for interested and eager graduate students to become involved in the sustainability community and the local nonprofit or public sectors," he says. "It really teaches you to talk the talk. You get a good feel for the field, and you get a lot accomplished while doing it."

Net Impact allows chapters to operate under a fluid structure and develop into unique organizations shaped by chapter focuses and goals. Townson says the Willamette chapter is still finding its feet, but looking to form long-term ties for consulting and analysis.

"The organization is so young that we're really open for anything," he says. "There are a lot of people with different skill sets involved. We draw students from many different focuses to events, and our projects span many educational topics."

The group has already begun reaching out to the community to work with local nonprofits. Students have participated in several service days with Marion-Polk Food Share — helping with such projects as bagging and boxing peas — as well as observing how the companies operate. Chapter members also helped landscape the Food Share building, and the organization's president spoke to the students about survival and success in a nonprofit setting.

Townson says the organization is not only relevant to Atkinson students, but to undergraduates and community members as well. The group hopes to start a speaker series, which would be open to the entire campus community, allowing undergraduates to also learn more about the MBA program.

"We provide a basis for knowledge proliferation throughout the Willamette community and hopefully to the Salem community at large," Townson says. "By hosting special topic seminars and guest speakers and becoming a substantial association for student involvement, we hope to be a strong organization dedicated to creating positive social change wherever possible."

Next year, the chapter will help plan the 2011 Net Impact Conference, which will be held in the Portland Convention Center. Townson, who attended the Detroit conference this year, says the event is a conglomeration of "the best and brightest" in the industry and is a great opportunity for networking.